Hand to Mouth

9780399171987_p0_v5_s192x300Linda Tirado’s blog post from 2013 set off a hailstorm of responses, some indignant and offended, others supportive and understanding.  I did read the original post when it first hit the web, which went viral, making headlines all over the country. The popularity of the original blog post (both good and bad) led to a book deal. Hand to Mouth is an expansion of the post that sparked so many emotions, of these ideas that Tirado originally expressed online, first entitled “Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts”.

Barbara Ehrenreich wrote the forward to the book. As the author of Nickel and Dimed (which is on a long list of banned books), she once gave up everything to live as an (hourly employee). Her book was first published in 2001; it was brave, real and groundbreaking in the way class was examined.

“She tells what its like to be a low-wage worker for the long term, with an erratically employed husband and two small children to raise and support.  She makes all the points I have been trying to make in my years of campaigning for higher wages and workers’ rights: That poverty is not a ‘culture’ or a character defect; it is a shortage of money.”

Tirado is not a journalist, though she has become well-known for her writing. She focuses her efforts here on the plight of the poor, having experienced so many financial setbacks and struggled so much in her own life.

There are no quick, easy-fix solutions on how to fix these problems. She acknowledges that. At the same time, throughout the whole book (and the now-famous essay) she defends the poor. They sometimes make bad decisions, but so do rich people. Sometimes, as is her case, people end up in bad situations – struggling financially, trying hard to find a decent-paying job – because of bad luck.

She is smart, well-educated, and her husband is a veteran. Why does she face such judgement??  So much has been said, debated, and written about the original post – and now the book.  Just a few days ago I read an article that was published in The Atlantic, making essentially the same argument.  The article argues that it is actually expensive to be poor, which is what Tirado explains in a number of different ways in the book.  They both resonate.

Tirado has something important to say, that we should all be listening to.  I enjoyed reading the book and whether you agree with what she has to say or not, she presents a strong argument, and the book is wort reading.


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